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Lynn Hummel: Russian leadership is at it again

The restless Russians are at it again.  This time, Vladimir Putin has flexed his muscles and the Russian troops have moved in to take charge of the Crimean port city of Sevastopol which is part of the Ukraine.

His excuse is that he must protect the ethnic Russians living in this foreign city.

The real reason is that the warm-water port on the Black Sea protects Russian  access to the Mediterranean and the shipping routes of the wider world.

Besides, the Russians have been embarrassed ever since their Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989 and the Soviet Union, consisting of 15 not-quite independent nations, including Ukraine, unraveled in 1991.

The Russians love territory.  It’s a symbol of world-power.  They “annexed” Ukraine 300 years ago.  Then they sent Ukrainians to the Crimea because they needed people there to replace the tartars who had been forced out. 

This is where Russian history and my history appear in the same chapter.  The Russians needed good farmers to farm the broad steppes and prairies of southwestern Ukraine adjacent to the Black Sea.  But they didn’t have any.

So, in 1863, Russian Czaress, Catherine the Great, a German princess who by way of diplomatic arrangement, married Peter III, a Russian, directed that German farmers be recruited to establish a solid agricultural sector. To entice the Germans to emigrate, the farmers were granted 160 acres per family, money to build a home and to buy feed and livestock and promised freedom of religion, exemption from military service, and 10 years exemption from taxation.

This looked good to the German peasants, especially those from Wurttemberg, where they were struggling with high taxes, inefficient government by royalty and general turmoil.  The acres looked especially good to those who owned about 12 acres back home.  “Father, what should we do with all this land?” asked one settler’s wife.

The Hummels came to the Bessarabia area (now Moldavia, in Western Ukraine) in 1816-1817.   My grandfather, Gottlieb, and my grandmother, Karolina, were both born in Klostitz, Bessarabia (South Russia) in 1869.  I have a picture on the wall of their large family of 10 children taken in about 1914.  No smiles on pictures taken 100 years ago.  Seven of those children were born in the old country and three in the USA. 

The Germans in Russia never became Russians and never intended to.  They succeeded in farming and had big families so they were soon buying vast tracts of additional acres from the Russians.

This didn’t sit well and some of the early promises were forgotten and the rules started to change, especially the privilege of retaining the German language and the exemption of German boys from Russian military service.

Finally, in 1881, the laws changed and the Germans were to be governed by the same laws as the Russians.  This “Russification” caused many Germans, especially those with families that included sons in or approaching military age, to start thinking about pulling up stakes.

Finally, in 1902, the Hummels had had enough of Russia.  Grandpa and Grandma pulled up and sailed to the US and settled in McLean County, North Dakota, with their seven children.  Grandpa’s two brothers, Jacob and Christian, also came with their families. 

And it’s a good thing they left.  Most of the Germans who remained in Russia were sorry.  With the approach of the First World War, the campaign of hate against the German minority, the “enemy within,” began to increase.

People were forbidden to speak German in their homes  and German services were prohibited in church.

Then, in 1916, Laws of Liquidation were passed.  These laws provided that Germans were prohibited from acquiring additional land and all settlers living within 95 miles of the border were to be deprived of their property and resettled elsewhere.

Many were forcibly transported, under inhumane conditions, to the eastern regions, as far as Siberia.

Half lost their lives on the way.  Then in 1928-29, collectivization was begun under Josef Stalin and private property was eliminated.  Finally, between 1936 and 1938, Stalin ordered termination of millions of peasants in the Ukraine.  So you see, if Grandpa Gottlieb and his family, my peasant ancestors, had stayed in Russia, somebody else would be writing this column. 

The Russians, as is their history, will continue to “annex” territory, move people around, make promises, break promises, change the rules and eliminate those that get in their way.  The Russian people are good.  But their leaders are corrupt, ruthless bullies.  Just watch.